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Internet Cookies – Are They Harmful?

Many people ask the question of whether cookies are harmful for their computers. The answer is generally no, but it is not nearly as straightforward as it sounds. While cookies are often stored in text files, only used to track information that is already provided to various websites, and are set to expire in short periods of time, they can be used for malicious purposes in certain instances. You will need to work with cookies – however, if you know when to delete them and when not to, you can still enjoy the conveniences they provide.

When Cookies are Good

Cookies are used by websites and browsers to store basic information about your Internet use. If you visit a pet store online and commonly look at cat products, the store will install a cookie that saves your preferences and tracks which pages you look at, not only telling the company what their customers are viewing, but giving you targeted results on the front page.

Additionally, browsers use cookies to store login information that you may not want to enter repeatedly. If you ever click the “save password” button below a login form, you are installing a cookie on your computer that will automatically insert your password into the fields. For those with multiple logins, this can be convenient and time saving.

In addition, bulky information such as IP addresses and browser preferences for a website can be stored in a cookie, saving time when loading a website you often visit. Generally, cookies are used as a shortcut to load information that you have already provided to a website, presenting no security risk on well known, established websites.

When Cookies are Bad

It is on websites that are not well known and established that cookies may become a concern. Because they can be installed without your knowledge, cookies can be installed by a third party from a website that is less than desirable. If you enter login information on a website that installs a cookie on your computer for malicious purposes, that individual can then take the information stored in that cookie and try to use it to steal other pieces of your information. This is easily solved in most cases by setting a higher security level for cookies, requiring that the browser ask you before saving any cookies to your browser or hard drive.

Another possible way in which cookies can negatively affect your computer is when they are stored on your hard drive for too long. Generally, the information there is safe because it is non-executable text files. However, if malware or spyware is installed on your computer, it may be possible for it to access those cookies and start retrieving your login, email, and personal information and sending it back to whomever installed the spyware.

Being Safe with Cookies

Cookies are necessary to run an Internet browser. They make it possible to visit most websites and can actually speed up and make your browsing experience safer. To feel more at ease and safer with them on your computer, you should set your browser to delete cookies on a more regular basis. Some may save up to 30 or 60 days automatically. With a third party privacy tool or by setting the browser to delete them every day, you can remove them from your hard drive before anyone can access and use your information. In combination with a good spyware removal tool and sensible browsing habits, you can overcome the possible negative effects that cookies might have on you and your PC’s privacy.

Source by Jeff Wilson

Top Ten Facts About Spyware

Unless you’ve been on another planet for the last five or six years you have surely heard of Spyware and I would hope you are taking precautions against your PC being infected. But do you know that the precautions you take may be ineffective in protecting your PC? Here are my Top Ten Facts about Spyware – some of them may shock you!

1. The average home PC contains 30 pieces of spyware according to an audit carried out in 2006 by security company Webroot Software. The type of infections range from the relatively harmless adware programs to malicious system monitors and trojan horses. Adware programs are software installations that display advertisements. System monitors are much more malicious and track a computer user’s Internet activity and capture personal information. Trojan Horse is the name given to malicious software which, although harmless itself, opens the way for more malicious software to be installed. Webroot Software found that, on average, the 30 pieces of spyware would contain at least 1 system monitor and 1 trojan horse.

2. Your identity can be a few mouse clicks away for criminals. Spyware can gather and report all the personal information about you including credit card numbers, bank account details, user names and passwords. According to The Identity Theft Resource Center, 13.3 people in the U.S. become victims of identity theft every minute. Although not all of these are due to spyware, it’s still a chilling thought that it can happen so easily if your PC is infected with this kind of malicious software.

3. Spyware can slow down you computer. Any computer has a limited amount of system resources. Every time another piece of software is run the computer must share out its resources ever more thinly. Malicious software infections result in longer boot times and an overall slowing down of the PCs performance.

4. Spyware can dramatically slow down your Internet connection. Every Internet connection has a limited amount of data it can transfer at any one time. All spyware communicates with the Internet thereby using up some of your available Internet communication. The more spyware, the more Internet communication will take place and the less space on your Internet connection for your own use.

5. Spyware can turn you into a ‘spammer’. Some spyware can download other software on to your PC that can relay Spam. In some cases this may lead to your Internet connection being blocked altogether if your ISP (Internet provider) traces instances of Spam to you.

6. Spyware can easily be installed on your computer without your knowledge. In some cases just one piece of Spyware can lead to many, many more as the initial infection downloads and installs other malicious software stealthily in the background.

7. Spyware can allow hackers to control your PC. Some versions install ‘backdoors’ to your PC that can allow someone from the outside to connect to your PC over the Internet and take full control of its use. Your PC can then be turned in to a ‘zombie’ that sends out spam, Trojan horses and computer viruses in their millions.

8. Some Spyware removal programs install Spyware. Why would they do that? In order to hide their own spying software. Think about it. You install an Anti-Spyware program to protect yourself against Spyware. The bogus Anti-Spyware program sweeps your PC for all Spyware except it’s own secret list of allowed spy software. You think it’s doing a great job and feel secure in using your PC when all the while secret spy software is sending out spam or monitoring your use looking for personal details. See spywarewarrior.com for a list of bogus Spyware removal software.

9. The best Anti-Spyware program only finds 90% of Spyware. Check out the review of Anti-Spyware software in any PC Magazine and you’ll find that none of them detect any more than 90% and most cannot remove more than 80%. Don’t be fooled in to thinking it’s not worth using any Anti-Spyware programs, after-all 90% is a whole lot better than 0% which would be the detection rate without the Anti-Spyware software.

10. Many computer users resort to wiping their PC and re-installing everything again in order to rid their system of Spyware. While this will do the trick, there is no guard against re-infection and can be a waste of time or lead to a loss of important data. After the system is back in use it may only be a matter of minutes before it’s infected again (see the BBC ‘Honeypot’ report mentioned on my website).

Source by Tim Maguire